UKIP illiteracy

One of the lessons of this election has been the illiteracy of many of UKIP’s candidates.

The literature you distribute is one of the ways you reach those you hope to represent. A failure to spell basic information correctly – you know, like the constituency – risks saying to voters ‘I don’t know your area and don’t even care to pretend to know it’. Similarly, if you can’t communicate coherently with your voters, how can they trust you to be able to communicate clearly on their behalf?

Here are some of the finest examples.

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False Liberals: the appalling collusion of the Liberal Party with UKIP

Earlier this month, the Western Morning News reported that the rag-tag bag of political misfits that constitute the Liberal Party had decided to withdraw candidates in Cornwall and encourage its supporters to back UKIP.

In a disgraceful betrayal of liberal values, the Liberal Party is using the cloak of its anti-European policy to encourage support for a party that is the antithesis of a vibrant, liberal and tolerant Britain.

The remnants of the Liberal Party should be utterly ashamed of themselves and I trust that the Liberator Collective will sever any remaining connections it has with them.

Simon Danczuk, John Mann and avoiding the tawdry politicking of child abuse

Since Simon Danczuk highlighted the appalling crimes of Cyril Smith by raising them under privilege in the House of Commons, he and fellow Labour MP John Mann have campaigned vigorously on behalf of those who have had to live with the consequences of historic child abuse.

They have also been dogged in pursuing any cover-up by the establishment.

Danczuk and Mann’s investigations have also had a political angle. They have levelled numerous accusations at Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats. For instance, Danczuk clearly thinks Clegg must have known about the allegations around Smith:

Mr Danczuk says the Liberal Democrats have been “defensive, slippery and shifty”. “They are a party in denial,” he said. “I don’t think they’re fit for government. They are a small political party, I find it incredible that they are claiming that they didn’t hear the rumours about Smith.”

Recently, he accused Cameron and Clegg of colluding to cover-up Smith’s abuses. If he has evidence, he has yet to produce any and, if such allegations of conspiracy are unfounded, his remarks must surely border on the slanderous.

Mann has also made unfounded assertions about what the Liberal Democrats must have known:

‘I don’t believe that they knew nothing. The Liberal Democrats need to hold their own investigation into what they knew and what they covered up.’

With typical sanctimony, Michael White, writing in The Guardian, argued:

‘Nick Clegg may have been a child in 1979, but that was no excuse in 1988 (when Smith was knighted) or 2014 to pretend the Lib Dem machine did not know about the allegations. But that goes for everyone else, too – most conspicuously the police, who failed to prosecute Smith and his network despite powerful evidence, and for those in higher authority, including No 10 and Buck House.’

What is not widely reported – or acknowledged by Danczuk, Mann, White etc – is that Clegg has done more than any other party leader to take the issue of historical child abuse seriously. It is clear from The Daily Telegraph that, rather that cover-up Smith’s activities, Clegg has been determined to ensure maximum openness and co-operation:

‘Nick Clegg wrote to every Liberal Democrat MP, Peer and former MP last year urging them to come forward with any information that could help unearth the truth about what happened.’

It’s apparent from his LBC show  that he has also been proactive by instructing comprehensive interviews of former MPs and searches of his party’s archives. Those are not the actions of a party leader seeking to cover-up the activities of a child abuser. That these activities don’t produce the information that Danczuk, Mann and White want doesn’t mean they haven’t been carried out and carried out in good faith.

Since the revelations regarding Smith, allegations have been made about a number of other politicians. They include the Labour MPs Leo Abse, George Thomas and Greville Janner (now Lord Janner, who has strenuously denied the allegations). Conservative MPs Peter Morrison, Leon Brittan, Rhodes Boyson and David Atkinson have also been the subject of equally shocking allegations. Perhaps most shocking of all is the allegation that Conservative MPs were present at the murder of some of those being abused.

There is also mounting evidence of some form of cover-up. Thatcher is said to have known about Smith and Morrison. There are questions emerging over the role of the police. Uncomfortably for Danczuk and Mann, the establishment, at the time of the most substantiated allegations against Smith (from the late sixties and early seventies), was dominated by Labour politicians and sympathetic officials.

Danczuk and Mann are rational, intelligent men. If they are also honest men they must accept the logic of their arguments:

  1. Allegations are now encompassing a significant number of Labour and Conservative politicians;
  2. To continue to be regarded as being interested in championing the issue, rather than political point scoring, they need to start asking the same tough questions of Ed Miliband and David Cameron.

If Clegg is expected to have known the rumours about Smith, the logic of Danczuk and Mann dictates that Miliband knew the rumours about Abse, Thomas and Janner and that Cameron should have known the rumours about Morrison, Brittan, Boyson and Atkinson. To remain credible, Danczuk and Mann must show they are interested in the issues above party considerations and pursue Miliband and Cameron at least as doggedly as they have pursued Clegg.

What did Cameron and Miliband know? What did successive Labour governments from 1997 to 2010 know? What did Tony Blair and John Prescott know? What did John Major know? Where are the instructions from Miliband? What effort is being made by Labour to quiz MPs of the era or trawl the whips’ black books? At least Cameron instructed his whips to open their books.

But Danczuk and Mann are strangely silent.

Despite accusations around seven Labour and Tory MPs, Danczuk and Mann remain fixated on Smith and the Liberal Democrats. They do not harangue Miliband and Cameron the way they pursue Clegg. They do not encourage the press to pursue them and make the sort of unsubstantiated accusations made against Clegg.

It’s not good enough for Danczuk and Mann to leave these questions to the Goddard Inquiry. That will rightly take its time to examine the evidence in forensic detail, but it will be years before its conclusions are published. To avoid accusations of tawdry party politicking, if Danczuk and Mann have names and evidence regarding other MPs, whether still serving, out of office or deceased, they should make them known now. They should ask the tough questions now.

Ahead of the General Election. However uncomfortable that information is for Miliband, Cameron, Clegg or any political party.

In the end, Danczuk and Mann cannot have it both ways: they cannot accuse people of a cover-up and then not volunteer what they themselves know.

Our politics deserves more than that.

The victims deserve more than that.

David Steel: STFU and do something useful

Apparently David Steel has been speaking for me and plenty of other party members about the future of the party. Except he is not speaking for me in the slightest.

How anyone who was out of touch with his party even as party leader can claim to know what the party is thinking when he hasn’t dignified a conference for years, is basically unknown to many younger Lib Dems and lives on for others as one half of a Spitting Image double-act is beyond me.

In his wisdom he says that:

“I’m pretty certain that the mood in the party will be to say the very most we would accept would be confidence and supply.

“I just detect that there’s a general feeling that we need to recharge our batteries and recharge our values and that association with another party is not the way to do it.”

I’m also not sure what sort of idiot thinks a confidence and supply arrangement would help us recharge our batteries? It seems like a recipe for all of the criticism and none of the credit. And I don’t know what sort of idiot thinks talking about in the ins and outs of post-election arrangements is a Good Thing? Perhaps one who hasn’t been involved in democratic politics for the best part of twenty years and who has not engaged properly with the party in coalition or been an advocate for its achievements.

Such considerations are for the other side of May 7th, not pointless and distracting speculation at the start of the campaign.

Steel should stop patronising the electorate and the party, get off his ermined backside and get out and campaign hard to ensure Lib Dem achievements in government are championed and as many Lib Dem MPs as possible are elected. (They’re called leaflets, David. You put them through letterboxes.)

Medical Innovation Bill update 3 – not moved #SaatchiBill

For those concerned about the Medical Innovation Bill being put through the House of Commons without any proper debate or scrutiny, you will be relieved to know that it wasn’t moved at 2.30pm. As this was the last Friday on which Private Member’s Bills could be considered, it will not become law in this Parliament.

Medical Innovations Bill update 2 – Wellcome Trust flags concerns #SaatchiBill

Charities have banded together under the banner of the Wellcome Trust to send MPs the following briefing on the Medical Innovations Bill. The bill is due to come in front of the House of Commons tomorrow and they are calling for its progress to be halted unless there is adequate scrutiny and debate:

wellcomecharities

Briefing on the Medical Innovation Bill

House of Commons Second Reading – 6 March 2015

Summary

We, as a coalition of medical research charities, non-commercial organisations and patient groups, believe that the Medical Innovation Bill will not achieve its aim of encouraging medical innovation, and could result in potentially harmful unintended consequences. We believe that this legislation is unnecessary, and, far from protecting doctors from litigation, it could actually increase the risk of litigation faced by doctors by introducing greater complexity into the legal framework.  These complex issues need careful consideration, and we call on MPs to object to any motion to pass the Bill without adequate scrutiny and debate.

Background

The Medical Innovation Bill is a Private Members Bill introduced by Lord Saatchi, which aims to encourage innovation in medical treatment by clarifying the circumstances under which a doctor may pursue an innovative treatment without fear of litigation. The Bill is currently scheduled to have its second reading in the House of Commons on Friday 6th March.

Key points

Is the Bill necessary?

  • The Bill aims to make it easier for doctors to pursue innovative treatments without fear of litigation. However, we are not aware of significant recorded evidence that doctors are being deterred from medical innovation due to the fear of litigation.
  • We are not convinced that legislation is the best way to address this issue, given this lack of evidence. There are significant other barriers to medical innovation that the Bill does not address – including funding, regulatory complexity, and clinical training and development. We believe efforts are better focused on understanding and tackling these wider barriers.

What are the risks?

  • The Bill risks subverting the frameworks currently in place to preserve patient safety. There may be unintended consequences for patients who could be at risk when receiving treatments for which the evidence base is not fully established, including treatments which could prove ineffective or harmful.
  • The Bill may discourage patients and their clinicians from participating in clinical trials by encouraging the provision of novel treatments on an ad hoc basis. Without properly controlled studies, it is not possible to develop the evidence of efficacy necessary to support wider adoption of new treatments in the NHS.
  • The Bill could introduce a degree of ambiguity to the law governing clinical negligence, potentially placing doctors at risk of further litigation.

What are the alternatives?

  • We believe that the best way to assess the efficacy and safety of treatments is through robust research studies with appropriate clinical monitoring and collection of data and other evidence.
  • It is essential that provision is made for collecting and sharing data in order to ensure that information of both beneficial and harmful effects of treatment is captured for the benefit of subsequent patients.

Other mechanisms already exist to increase access to innovative treatments. We believe efforts are better directed through existing mechanisms, with proportionate regulation and evidence review.

Further information and background:

Aims and rationale of the Bill

  • The main premise of the Bill is that doctors are being deterred from medical innovation due to the fear of litigation. We are not aware of significant recorded evidence that doctors are currently being deterred.  We believe there is a need for a better evidence base to support this premise, and to provide greater clarity on the best way to address this issue.
  • The Bill does not address other highly significant barriers to medical innovation within the structural and organisational levels of clinical service.  Without addressing these barriers we believe that the Bill cannot achieve its overall aim. They include:-
  • the complexity of the current regulatory system which can make it time-consuming and expensive to set up clinical trials;
    • the lack of financial incentives, clinical engagement and training for the development, adoption and diffusion of innovative approaches and treatments.
  • We support other mechanisms that currently exist to increase access to innovative medicines, and believe that efforts are better focused to build upon existing mechanisms such as:-
    • The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency’s recent announcement of the Early Access to Medicines Scheme  to provide a rapid approval mechanism for innovative medicines when there is a clear unmet medical need and before phase III trials;
    • The European Medicines Agency’s decision to provide adaptive licensing through its ‘adaptive pathways’ pilot project;
    • The ‘named patient’ provisions of Section 9 of the Medicines Act 1968 also allow doctors to prescribe unlicensed medicinal products; ensuring widespread information about these provisions could also provide a stronger basis for innovation.

The importance of research in assessing novel treatments

  • The Bill does not make adequate provisions for follow-up or data collection.  This is a key aspect of innovation since new interventions require an evidence base to demonstrate safety and efficacy and to ensure effective uptake in practice.  A lack of data collection or follow-up could also lead to some practitioners continuing to provide untested and ineffective (or potentially harmful) treatments to patients.
  • We are also concerned that the Bill may discourage patients and their clinicians from participating in clinical trials by encouraging the provision of novel treatments on an ad hoc basis, leading to a failure to develop the robust evidence of efficacy necessary to support wider adoption of innovations in the NHS.
  • The Bill contains no specific provision for the testing of novel treatments in comparison with existing treatments, as is standard in many research studies. Without appropriate collection and sharing of results – locally and centrally – it would be impossible for the clinical community to learn from existing and new evidence.
  • We believe the best way to assess the efficacy and safety of treatments is through full and robust research studies with appropriate clinical monitoring and collection of data and other evidence, on a rigorous statistical basis and with appropriate ethical approval(s).
  • We welcomed the commitments made during the debates in the House of Lords about the importance of collecting data and recording the outcomes of innovative treatments.  We further welcome that this is now reflected in the draft Bill, in particular the requirement for doctors to comply “with a scheme for capturing the results of innovative treatment (including positive and negative results and information about small-scale treatments and patients’ experiences)” (Clause 1 (e)), and to record details of such treatments in the patient’s medical record.  However we consider there remains a need for greater clarity over how such a scheme will work in practice, and the professional requirements for doctors to comply with it.

 Relation of the Bill to existing law and regulation

  • Even with the safeguards provided in the Bill, we are concerned that the Bill risks subverting the appropriate frameworks currently in place to preserve patient safety. There may be unintended consequences for patients who could be at risk of receiving treatments for which the evidence base is not well established, including treatments which could prove ineffective or even harmful.

While we welcome provisions in the most recent amendments to clarify the Bill’s intersection with common law, (Clause 2), we feel that the Bill still risks introducing a degree of ambiguity to the law governing clinical negligence, potentially placing doctors at risk of further litigation.  We would welcome further clarification of how the Bill will work in practice in relation to, and without conflicting with, existing law or regulation, particularly in relation to research.

Medical Innovations Bill update #SaatchiBill

Contrary to the report in the Telegraph, which claimed that the bill was “pulled at the eleventh hour”, Lord Saatchi’s Medical Innovations Bill, sponsored in the Commons by Michael Ellis, is still listed for consideration tomorrow. You can see it in the Order Paper under Future Business at No. 37.

Whilst it won’t be debated, it is theoretically possible for the bill to pass all its stages at 2.30pm tomorrow.

As the Liberal Democrats have refused to back the bill, there should be no agreed government position and so the bill should be blocked by a government whip shouting ‘object’ (they seem to block all private member’s bills which the government don’t support).

I hope that opponents of the bill will be on hand to make sure that does happen – or to shout object themselves in the event that the whip forgets.

In the interests of good science and patient safety, please ensure the Medical Innovations Bill doesn’t make any further progress and instead throw support behind Lib Dem Health Minister Norman Lamb’s sensible proposition in the Telegraph report:

‘So, faced with this level of concern, but recognising the profound importance of innovation and of saving lives, the best way to proceed is surely to appoint an eminent person examine what the barriers to innovation really are and how best to overcome them.

“I am not interested in pushing this into the long grass. It should be given priority but we must get it right. Such an examination of the issue should involve patient organisations, legal bodies, royal colleges and medical unions.’

You can read more about the Medical Innovations Bill here on my earlier blog post.